By the numbers: 2024 pre-season testing analysis

What did this week's pre-season testing actually tell us about the state of the teams heading into 2024? Our team digs into the raw data to see what it all means and what it says about the shape of the season ahead. Will it prove to be another walkover for Red Bull, or are there signs of other teams making a challenge?

George Russell (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 W15 - practice start procedure at the end of testing. 23.02.2024. Formula 1 Testing, Sakhir, Bahrain, Day Three. -, EMail: © Copyright: Coates / XPB Images

With just days to go before the Bahrain Grand Prix raises the curtain on the new season, the paddock is understandably awash with speculation about how the teams stand based on their performance in this week's official three-day pre-season test.

Looking at the headline fastest times from the whole of the week, the casual observer might be tempted to exclaim: "But what happened to Red Bull, where are they?" Max Verstappen was fully in charge on Wednesday, but the team then seemed to slip on a cloak of invisibility and go into stealth mode for the remainder of the week.

2024 Bahrain Pre-Season Test - Fastest times by driver

Carlos SainzFerrari1:29.921sThursdayC4
Charles LeclercFerrari1:30.322sFridayC4
George RussellMercedes1:30.368sFridayC4
Zhou GuanyuSauber1:30.647sFridayC4
Sergio PerezRed Bull1:30.679sThursdayC3
Max VerstappenRed Bull1:30.755sFridayC3
Yuki TsunodaRB1:30.775sFridayC4
Alex AlbonWilliams1:30.984sFridayC4
Oscar PiastriMcLaren1:31.030sFridayC3
Lewis HamiltonMercedes1:31.066sThursdayC3
Fernando AlonsoAston Martin1:31.159sFridayC3
Lando NorrisMcLaren1:31.256sThursdayC3
Daniel RicciardoRB1:31.361sThursdayC4
Nico HulkenbergHaas1:31.686sFridayC3
Lance StrollAston Martin1:32.029sThursdayC3
Esteban OconAlpine1:32.061sThursdayC3
Pierre GaslyAlpine1:32.149sFridayC3
Valtteri BottasSauber1:32.227sThursdayC3
Logan SargeantWilliams1:32.578sThursdayC4
Kevin MagnussenHaas1:33.053sFridayC3

Cause for concern at Red Bull? Don't you believe a word of it. Red Bull likes to keep its cards very close to its chest until the moment to show its hand arrives at the first proper race weekend. They did exactly the same thing last year, making people wonder if the season was going to be a lot closer than everyone was expecting - only to then go and sweep all but one Grand Prix.

Do we really think that Sergio Perez is quicker than Max Verstappen? That RB's Yuki Tsunoda is just two hundredths of a second off the pace of the three-time world champion? Of course not. Red Bull were clearly 'sandbagging' when it came to raw pace. Perez was caught up in the drain cover red flags on Thursday and Friday, and by the time Verstappen was back in the car for the final afternoon the team was making no secret of focussing on long-run simulations rather than single lap race pace.

Despite their relatively muted time in the final two days of testing, Verstappen and Perez were both looking supremely confident. Moreover, all their rivals on pit lane had taken a look at RB20 and immediately decided that there would be no stopping Red Bull again this year. Maybe the competition on track would be slightly closer, but the amount of impressive innovation by Adrian Newey on display makes even that seem like a distant hope.

2024 Bahrain Pre-Season Test - Fastest times by team

Ferrari1:29.921sThursdayC4Carlos Sainz
Mercedes1:30.368sFridayC4George Russell
Sauber1:30.647sFridayC4Zhou Guanyu
Red Bull1:30.679sThursdayC4Sergio Perez
RB1:30.775sFridayC4Yuki Tsunoda
Williams1:30.984sFridayC4Alex Albon
McLaren1:31.030sFridayC3Oscar Piastri
Aston Martin1:31.159sFridayC3Fernando Alonso
Haas1:31.686sFridayC3Nico Hulkenberg
Alpine1:32.061sThursdayC3Esteban Ocon

But the numbers do paint a picture of a much stronger challenge from Ferrari, which topped the times in the final two days. Carlos Sainz was fastest of anyone across the three days, and Charles Leclerc was quickest on the final day. That speaks not just to the SF-24's general performance but also its consistency and reliability.

It's a much better starting point for Ferrari. Last year they bowled into testing talking a good game, but the actual numbers provoked an immediate sense of dread when they realised that they were just not good enough to challenge Red Bull for the title. This year the feeling is that while Red Bull are still well ahead, the new Ferrari is nonetheless much stronger and has addressed the major problems of last year.

Adrian Newey (GBR) Red Bull Racing Chief Technical Officer watches mechanics with the Red Bull Racing RB20. 23.02.2024. Formula 1 Testing, Sakhir, Bahrain, Day Three. -, EMail: © Copyright: Coates / XPB Images

It's perhaps a surprise to see Mercedes end up as runners-up to Ferrari when it comes to the fastest times. Lewis Hamilton hadn't appeared over-enthusiastic after his first taste of the W15, but George Russell was much happier and duly finished just 0.046s behind Leclerc's best time on Friday. The Mercedes engineers seem to have succeeded in designing out some of the worst elements of last year's 'vicious' car. The question is whether all this work has left them half a step behind Ferrari, let alone failing to close the gap on Red Bull.

But the appearance of Stake F1 Team Kick Sauber at number three in the fastest team times should serve as a warning about just how 'soft' any analysis of the raw data is at this point. Are Sauber truly quicker than Red Bull, McLaren, Aston Martin and the others? That would be equivalent to last year's sudden off-season improvement by Aston. But the truth is that Zhou Guanyu was given a leftover set of the soft C4 tyres and ushered out with minutes remaining in the test to see what he could do, an opportunity that only Russell was also granted, so take Sauber's high standing - and the results overall - with a large pinch of salt for now.

2024 Bahrain Pre-Season Test - Total laps/km by driver

Kevin MagnussenHaas2391293
Carlos SainzFerrari2241212
Daniel RicciardoRB2101136
Max VerstappenRed Bull2091131
Nico HulkenbergHaas2021093
Lance StrollAston Martin1961060
Esteban OconAlpine1931044
Valtteri BottasSauber1931044
Charles LeclercFerrari1921039
George RussellMercedes1891022
Zhou GuanyuSauber1861006
Sergio PerezRed Bull183990
Oscar PiastriMcLaren183990
Fernando AlonsoAston Martin182984
Lewis HamiltonMercedes172930
Alex AlbonWilliams161871
Yuki TsunodaRB157849
Lance NorrisMcLaren145784
Pierre GaslyAlpine141763
Logan SargeantWilliams138746

Total laps for all drivers: 3695 (19,987km)

Rather than dwell too much on speed - which is affected by the testing programme being run by the team at any given time, what tyres they're on, who gets to be in the car in the fresher morning session and who had the advantage of the late afternoon and evening warm conditions - it's perhaps more helpful to look at reliability, as represented by the total mileage statistics by driver and by team.

In this we hit perhaps the first notable surprise: Kevin Magnussen completed the most laps of anyone with 239 tours of Bahrain's 5.412km (3.363 mile) F1 track configuration. Nico Hulkenberg added another two hundred laps to the team tally of 441 laps in total, almost half a Grand Prix's distance more than the next most-travelled team, and all without any significant technical problems.

That's a major achievement for last year's wooden spoon winners, although it comes with a caveat: Haas were so focused on long-distance simulations to help them overcome last year's crippling race performance that they had little time to work on the pace of the VF-24. As a result Magnussen had the weakest time of the week overall and Haas ended up as the second-slowest team in the test, with only Alpine worse off. It seems to back new team principal Ayao Komatsu's gloomy but realistic verdict that Haas will be starting next week's race from the familiar envions of the back row of the grid.

2024 Bahrain Pre-Season Test - Total laps/km by team

Red Bull3912116
Aston Martin3792051

Total laps for all teams: 3695 (19,987km)

There was also good mileage and reliability from Ferrari, Red Bull, Aston Martin and Sauber as well. RB and Mercedes were slightly further back but close enough not to spark any serious concerns about how their new cars were holding up over the three days. But inevitably, the eye is drawn to the teams at the very bottom of the table and whether this should be ringing any alarm bells.

The good news is that there are no signs of any team suffering anything like a total disaster in testing. In past years we've had Williams not even being ready to take to the track on the first day, while last year saw a nightmare performance from McLaren which accurately foretold just how awful they would be in the opening races of the season itself.

Williams completed just 299 laps last week (the least of any team) having suffered a number of technical problems that kept them off the track for long periods including Alex Albon's fuel pump issue at the end of Wednesday morning and a driveshaft concern for Logan Sargeant in the afternoon. However none of these seemed serious or chronic issues, more the sort of glitches you would typically expect in the first test of the season and soon attended to. Moreover, when it was able to get up to speed, the FW46 was looking pretty swift and Albon ended up eighth fastest in the overall best times.

Pierre Gasly (FRA) Alpine F1 Team A524 leaves the pits. 21.02.2024. Formula 1 Testing, Sakhir, Bahrain, Day One. -, EMail: © Copyright: Moy / XPB Images

Should we read anything into McLaren's low mileage? The MCL38 suffered a small fuel system problem and then clutch issues limiting Norris to just 145 laps in his time in the car compared to 183 for team mate Oscar Piastri, a total of 328 over the full three days. No doubt the team would have preferred a more bullet-proof showing from the car to dispel any lingering memories of last year's dire test, but again this doesn't suggest any major concerns at this stage. However the car itself was also not especially fast (P7 in the team times) which even accounting for 'sandbagging' is not as good as fans had been hoping to see given how strongly McLaren finished 2023.

But if there is a team that is sending out distress signals at this stage of preparations for the first race of 2024, it has to be Alpine. The numbers are looking pretty sickly for the French squad across the board. They completed just 334 laps meaning that they weren't focused on long distance runs, but their raw pace was also very weak. They were the slowest team over the three days, more than two seconds off the pace of the leading Ferrari. The times of Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon were within a tenth of each other, suggesting that they were both getting the most out of the A524 that they could - and it just wan't good enough.

2024 Bahrain Pre-Season Test - Total laps/km by engine manufacturer

Honda RBPT7584102

Total laps for all engine manufacturers: 3695 (19,987km)

While Alpine is in effect the Renault factory team in F1, it's also well known that the power unit is significantly underpowered compared to its rival engine manufacturers.

However in terms of distance and reliability, it's hard to do a straightforward comparison between the various power unit providers because they supply different numbers of teams. Mercedes is always going to top the table by virtue of selling engines to Aston Martin, Williams and McLaren as well as for its own factory team. Ferrari meanwhile supply engines to Sauber and Haas as well as their own works team. And Red Bull are still running their Honda legacy units in their cars as well as those of RB (formerly AlphaTauri). Renault engines are used only by Alpine, so purely based on those numbers the order in the final table is what you'd expect with no surprises jumping out.

Max Verstappen (NLD) Red Bull Racing RB20. 23.02.2024. Formula 1 Testing, Sakhir, Bahrain, Day Three. -, EMail: © Copyright: Bearne / XPB Images

In fact that's the overall story of the 2024 pre-season test: no real surprises, unlike last year with Aston's sudden surge and McLaren's desperate slump. This week was all very much to be expected. And the odd technical glitch aside, the cars actually proved remarkably reliable and delivered solid performances right from the start, as you'd expect given there had been no changes to the technical rules and regulations over the winter. The only stand-out failure of the week was Bahrain International Circuit's drain covers, which definitely need a bit of work and time spent on them.

So the smart money must be on another dominant performance from Red Bull, although it looks slightly less likely that they will have the same near-clean sweep as last year. Ferrari look set to be runners-up and Lewis Hamilton's decision to jump ship from Mercedes is looking like a good one as Mercedes might find itself struggling to stay ahead of McLaren and Aston Martin this year. And the scrap over last place in the championship looks wide open at this point with Haas in with a chance of finishing ahead of Williams while Sauber and RB look much improved, but Alpine potentially in mortal danger.

But that's just based on the numbers after three days of testing - and as we've seen, the numbers can lie or at least be twisted to a team's advantage. That won't be the case with the results of the first race of the season next Saturday, when the truth will out as it always does in F1.

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